I grew up in a meat and potatoes family. T-bone steaks, meatloaf, Sloppy Joe’s, and beef stroganoff, were mainstays on the table. We enjoyed pork chops, pork roasts and fried chicken. Fish made its appearance during Lent, and vegetables were a canned variety taking a minor role aside a huge portion of potatoes or rice.
That’s the way things were in the 70s. Meat on the table every night was a sign of a successful middle class family life.
Fast-forward 40 or so years and meat remains a mainstay on the table (on the grill, in our cars, at the restaurants). No longer a status symbol for the middle class wealth, consumption of beef is driven by its relative low cost and extreme availability. In fact, in 2009, the average yearly consumption of red meat, including beef, pork, veal and lab was at 106.3 pounds per person. Even when vegetarians are factored into this number, the poundage is still staggering.
The USDA recommends that individuals consuming 2,000 calories eat 5.5 ounces of lean meats and beans each day (although this varies by gender and age). It is clear that the 106 pounds of red meat Americans eat annually, we are definitely are eating much more than is recommended.
Sure, consuming red meat, especially beef, is a good way to fulfill recommended daily allowances of protein, while providing our bodies with vitamin B12, iron, and zinc, but eating too much beef, which has high saturated fat content, has been shown to increase the incidence of breast and colorectal cancers, as well as cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure and cholesterol.
My health (and that of my family) has a lot to do with our cutting meat consumption. Not only the saturated fat issue, but also the health implications of consuming meat and poultry treated with antibiotics and growth hormones is quite offsetting. Beyond our own health, I also weigh in the fact that the production of meat is a big polluter of the environment.
But, to be honest, cost is a big reason for us cutting back. While conventionally reared meats are sold at low prices, our choice for more natural and non-chemically enhanced options can be expensive, especially when feeding a family of six.
Whatever the reason is – the cost, our health, or the health of our environment, Americans are paying a bit more attention to the amount of meat consumed each week. To that end, programs such as Meatless Mondays have taken hold.
Lately I’ve taken a more active role in seeking vegetarian meals to incorporate into my rotating mix of recipes. Nothing too radical for our egg-loving, cheese-eating family, just a gentle switch from 7 days a week, to 5.
In the process, I easily mastered a healthy entourage of meatless pasta recipes including Rosemary Spaghetti with Roasted Asparagus, Pasta Fresca, and Organic Vegetable Barley Soup to our mix. As for seafood, we add an offering or two every couple weeks, but since I’m not a fan of seafood, I find it hard to add it into the mix more frequently. So, that leaves me to turn to to veggies, grains and beans.
Last week, I decided to go simple – garbanzo beans doused in olive oil and a bit of seasonings, just like the girls get at preschool. Surely it would be a hit. I then dug up a Spanish rice recipe in one of my Mollie Katzen cookbooks and with the help of Grayson whipped up a great-tasting dinner and no one wondered “where’s the beef?”
Yesterday, it was Molly Katzen again. This time it was her Enchanted Broccoli Forest and Vegetable Upside-Down Cake. I enticed the kids’ inner-fairy fantasies and asked them to bring their fairy dust and wings to dinner, as we were venturing into the Enchanted Broccoli Forest. I whipped out the cookbook and showed them a picture of what I was talking about, and they were definitely excited.
The results were less than enchanting. I’m attributing a big part of the mishap to the distraction of Keely’s top-of-her-lungs screaming (because I hadn’t planned a play date with her friend), just as I was trying to prep and prepare both dishes at once. As a result of this distraction, about 10 minutes after I put the upside-down cake in the oven to bake, I realized I forgot to add the shredded cheddar. At this point, it was too late to add. My heart dropped, realizing that the cheese, which would be a draw for the kids, wouldn’t even be in the dish to entice them to eat.
Dinnertime came, and so did the complaints. I send a big Thank You to Greg for gobbling up both dishes, a high five to Grayson for trying both dishes (although he left the cake on his plate), and a low five for the girls who wouldn’t even put the cake on their plates. Thank goodness I has some of those garbanzo beans waiting in the wings to help fill the gap.
Tonight, instead of trying to channel my inner vegetarian, I’m on a quest for some inner Zen. The kids will get their favorite pasta dinner, and I’ll get some peace.
Here’s hoping the vegetarian vibes are with you (at least once a week).